The End of the Affair
By Graham Greene
Read Oct 2020
Many of Greene’s works have been adapted for film and this book is no exception. This story, set in London during and after WWI, was adapted as a movie twice: one film was released in 1955 and one in 1999. An opera based on the book premiered in 2004.
We meet our protagonist and narrator, Maurice Bendix, about two years after the end of his affair with Sarah, the wife of a civil servant. He recounts the story: Maurice had been interested in writing a story about an administrator in the government so met Sarah and her husband, Henry. Maurice and Sarah carried on a passionate affair that lasts about two years. Bendix tells us he knew the affair was coming to an end, driven in part by his jealousy, but he did not expect the abruptness of the ending which occurred after his house was damaged by a bomb in 1944 and he was nearly killed.
The story now moves forward: Maurice remains angry with the ending of the affair. He encounters Sarah’s husband, Henry, on the square on which both of their residences lie. Over drinks, Henry takes Maurice into his confidence that he thinks Sarah may be having an affair. Maurice privately hires a detective without Henry’s knowledge to determine the identity of this new lover to appease his own jealousy.
The detective obtains Sarah’s diary which explains the end of the affair and her new love interest. The second half of the book relates Maurice’s handling of this information and the events that follow.
Greene converted to Cat holism at age 24 and several of his books have strong Catholic themes. This is the fourth of those novels. In this one, the characters struggle with the question of believing in God, a struggle Greene also shared prior to his conversion and again later in life.
Greene was both a “popular” and “literary” author. Greene’s literary talents are well displayed in this book. Making the main character and narrator a writer is especially interesting as he relates Maurice’s approach to his work and the challenges he faces in his writing while being in mourning for the affair and while he struggles with questions of faith. This novel demonstrates Greene’s ability to weave a classically interesting tale of an affair with philosophical questions that remain impossible to completely answer and to keep both topics fresh despite the passing of nearly seventy years since the book’s original publication.